Final descent

I suppose that could be a tag to talking about Sofia’s arrival from Brazil yesterday … but it is not.

I have mentioned and hinted that I went through a rather protracted period of feeling unhappy. I call it my despondency period.

The initial stages centred around my unhappiness in my work (not that my job is bad – it is excellent, but I really have little stimulation or fulfillment from what I do – and I am addicted to the pay and benefits). This resulted in about 2 – 2-1/2 years of me being in flight mode and simply looking for ways to escape (change jobs, new career, go independent). I read tons of books on self-esteem, career change, motivation, starting your own business, etc.

Then I got a 6 month unpaid leave of absence – which was excellent (even if I didn’t accomplish much, at least I was able to refocus a bit). A few weeks into this sabbatical, around this time a year ago, something changed in how I perceived myself and the world.

All my life, I have been confident of myself. If anyone asked me who I am, I would simply reply, "I am me".

I viewed myself, my manner of thought, speech, dress, desires, behavior … whatever … as normal. So I was the rule I applied to the rest of the world to determine if things were normal or not. Obviously, I noted that I was the only normal person in a sea of insanity. I always believed that I would eventually find that oasis of sanity, populated with normal people, just like me.

A year ago, I realized that it is I whom am different. Everyone else is perfectly normal, it is my responses that are atypical. Do people have free will or is it an illusion? We can examine the question as, “If people have free will, would pop culture be possible?” So, if everyone (the majority) acts in a particular way, is it because they have freely acted, or because they had no choice? Look at the behavior of crowds, it behaves as a single organism, people are plugged into it – but I am not. I have never been swept up in the emotion of a crowd – I am always detached.

So, I act the way I do not because I am making an alternative choice, but because I am incapable of making the same choice everyone else is making.

That was hard because it undermined my personal beliefs and convictions about free will. I have always been a hardcore non-determinist – "We are condemned to be free!” as Jean Paul Sartre might be summarized.

Having this fundamental truth kicked out from under me was hard and I spent a lot of time just listening to Grace Slick belting out Somebody to Love – especially the opening lines:

When the truth is found to be lies
and all the joy within you dies

I have not yet fully recovered from that yet. My position on free will is indeterminate at the moment (although, it is leaning towards non-determinism).

Between the two extremes of non-determinists and determinists, there is a third group called compatibilists who argue: "While true that people do not have free will, it is the illusion of free will that is important. As long as you are happy with the decision then it can be argued that free will has been exercised." I don’t buy that.

Either free will exists or it doesn’t.

Site note: A benefit of there being no free will, is that things like astrology, entrail reading and other forms of augury would actually work, since it would a simple transformational mapping from teas leaves to your life (just trust me on this one).

Probably the most famous compatibilist would be St. Thomas Aquinas, who in defending free will in the face of an omniscient God who already knows the future (hence our actions), wrote that God’s knowing did not cause us to act, just as your knowing a thief was going to break into your house did not actually cause the thief to actually commit the crime. I have rejected this argument pretty much all my life and had always maintained that God could not know my actions if I was truly free willed (hence, God’s knowledge of the future is imperfect.)

With free will out of the way, I had no need for God – so that knocked out another core pillar in my life.

And, if there is no God, afterlife is out of the question – knock out another pillar.

If there is no afterlife, then morality and social conscience are really moot points aren’t they? Especially if you consider that you had not choice in the first place because you have no free will.

So, with a fairly simple doubt, I managed to knock down quite a lot of my foundation.

What I was left with, if determinism is true and free will is false, is that life is nothing more than extremely complicated dance of entropy.

Entropy is the tendency of a system to move from an ordered state to a disordered state (or moving from a useful state of energy to an inert or non-useful state of energy). In a deterministic universe, the sole function of the universe is to move from an ordered state (atoms, molecules, planets and suns) to a disordered state (everything run down and dead, no light, no warmth, no life).

The sun does its bit by converting hydrogen into helium and releasing energy which is captured by the earth and fixed by plants and bacteria. Humans mine, build, tear down, procreate, make war – but all for no purpose, since their only function is contribute to the overall entropy of the universe.

A depressing and desolate vision – I think it would make a nice bleak sci-fi story.

Ever since I was a little kid, my parents warned me, "Don't think thoughts like that / ask those kinds of questions or you will go crazy."

That time I almost did.


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